Life can be all activity. We have worries, tasks, questions and goals to work on. Those breaks in our day are few. It could be the end of the day, or a 15 minute opening in your schedule. Whatever is available, that is when you need to rest your tired limbs and mind.
So you sit in front of a TV and watch a CSI marathon. Or you take a TMZ.com break and scan through the latest gossip. That is what you and I call rest…and that is why you are resting all wrong.
We think we will rest by just taking away what made us tired. It makes logical sense, right? If you have a thorn in your thumb that is causing you pain, and you can remove that pain by simply removing that thorn. But the body and mind don’t always work that way.
Have you ever felt a bit numb or maybe even more tired after doing something mindless, like watching TV or staring at your office’s ceiling? Yeah, me, too. This means you weren’t truly resting.
There are three approaches to to get the rest you need, and they are all based on how your body and mind work on a biological level. These are: Acceptance, Change and Surrender.
Tiredness and stress build throughout time. This is called the allostatic load. Your mind owns this load, like an ever-growing to-do list. Every time a new item you need to consider comes up, it gets added to this to-do list.
As you are already guessing, this affects your attempts to let go of all that stuff. Your mind will continue to run laps around that list unless you do something about it.
One way of shifting your mind’s “attention” is to Accept the reality you are in. When you are caught up in the milieu of things you don’t recognize that milieu. You just keep running; we keep chugging away.
This is where mindfulness can help. Being mindful means being aware of what is happening right now. It also means you are able to detach yourself from the hubub running around you. It’s as if you ceased to become You, the busy bee, and instead were watching You, The Busy Bee, the movie. You achieve an awareness beyond your to-do list–you transcend it.
This probably all sounds meta, but there’s a way you can easily achieve this, and that is through meditation. Meditation helps put you in that state of mindful awareness (among other great benefits). You rise above the taxing reality around you. You go to a space where you can breathe, in every sense of the word. Being aware of what is happening now helps release the tension and tiredness that comes with it.
Studies show that 15 minutes of meditation provide you the same amount of rest as one hour of sleep. That is how powerful of a restful reboot you can get from Accepting your reality.
But the world keeps spinning. If you are not in a mindful space, walking away from something does not mean you have completely let it go. That’s not how you work.
Our minds are great at focusing on something (finding an earring, chasing a goal). They’re not good at focusing on nothing (that is why negative goals like, “I will lose weight,” are hard to stick to). This is called absence blindness. Our minds have trouble holding onto what’s out of focus.
When you stop doing the work that has wiped you out and do nothing instead, your mind doesn’t follow along. It can’t focus on absence, so it keeps working on what was there before–the stuff you are trying to get rid of.
This is where Change helps. Just like working a muscle, you give that muscle rest by switching your efforts to another muscle. Instead of taking away, you re-direct the course of the snowball.
Winston Churchill, a man who led a nation through WWII and fought off the Nazis’ attempt to destroy his country (i.e. he was probably quite busy), said this about how we approached resting:
Change is the master key. A man can wear out a particular part of his mind by continually using it and tiring it […] The tired mind can be rested and strengthened, not merely by rest, but by using other parts. It is not merely enough to switch off the lights which play upon the main stage […] a new field of interest must be illuminated. […] It is only when new cells are called into activity, when new stars become the lords of the ascendant, that relief, repose, refreshment are afforded. – Winston Churchill, Painting as a Pastime
If you spent hours working on your computer, go for a jog.
If you are tired of doing house chores, do some doodling outdoors.
If you spent the whole day doing mindless, monotonous work (which can most definitely wipe you out), do something mentally stimulating, like writing, or taking free online classes.
If you spent the whole day trying to outsmart Hitler, do some painting.
Work out a different part of yourself. It might seem counter-intuitive–replace work with more work?!–but it does the trick. You’ll not only stay active in a fulfilling way, but you’ll give that other part of you some much needed rest.
Sometimes it’s all too much. You don’t want to center yourself. You don’t want to scribble or learn about anything. You just want to pass the heck out. Which means you should.
Fatigue is real. It’s not just being tired, it is being chronically tired. Your body is going into preservation mode (it can even cause bouts of depression).
The only way to approach this is to surrender to your needs. Surrender is often thought of as a bad thing. It doesn’t mean you gave up. It means you’re bowing out for your greater good.
Sometimes surrender means giving up trying to understand and becoming comfortable with not knowing – Eckhart Tolle
To surrender means to shut down, i.e. sleep. It can also mean to indulge: give yourself a bubble bath, drink some hot cocoa and listen to music, or drink a beer and take a nap. Take care of yourself as if you were sick, because you kind of are. Just like when you have a cold or are injured, do what makes you feel good and helps you recover. Whatever you need to get yourself out of the red, you must do it now.
I encourage you to try these approaches today. Tweet at me to let me know how they’ve helped you get the rest you need.
In mindfulness, thrive.
Featured photo credit: Val Gardena Groden Marketing via flickr.com